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Amelia Edith Huddleston Barr.

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tion quickly out of her mind. As she took off
her wraps and brushed back her hair, she heard
her father and John coming up the stairs to-
140



WHAT AILS THIS HEART OF MIN.E

gather. "After all," she told herself, "I have
John ! Alice wants him, but she can t make
up her mind to accept him with his etceteras
of unfashionable opinions and unfashionable
relations. And I would n t change places with
her if I had to change my opinions and my
relations. John is worth twenty of her! Who
are the Lloyds, anyway ? "

She put down her brush with considerable
accent, and went into the dining-room hum
ming a melody that had sprung from her heart
as an unconscious explanation of her mood.
As soon as she entered the room, it stopped
suddenly. Steve stood in the middle of the
floor watching for her, and the next moment
he was holding her hands, while a thousand
joys and hopes lit up his beaming face. They
met in each other s arms, the meeting being
perfectly unconsidered and natural. Before
either of them were aware of the act Steve
had kissed her. He had called her "dear Jes
sie." He had led her with the air of one who
had the right of possession to the chair beside
his own. And then he slipped into her hands
a little box full of ornaments made of amber
from the Baltic Sea, amber that looked like
crystallised sunshine, and a coral comb for her
hair that he had bought in Naples, and a set of
rich laces from the Isle of Malta.



THE KING S HIGHWAY

Jessie was delighted. What woman is insen
sible to presents, especially such presents as
are for the adornment of her beauty? She
could not eat her supper. She ran into her
room and came out brilliant with amber glory
and silky, white lace. Then Steve could not
eat for very admiration of her; and their joy
spread as fire spreads, and every heart was
aflame with love and friendship, and the de
light of welcome for one who had been far
away and had come back to his home again.
Nothing explicit had been said, and yet every
member of the family felt that Jessie and
Steve belonged to each other; and as Flora was
visiting her betrothed s sister, and John had
business with Mr. Lloyd, and Mr. and Mrs.
McAslin remained together in the dining-room,
there seemed to be a propitious arrangement
by which Steve and Jessie had the parlour to
themselves. Steve went there with his pur
pose plainly written on his face. Jessie hid
her intelligence of the position under a pretty
access of vanity in her new and precious be
longings. But all pretences fell away when
they stood alone. Steve made no attempt to
delay his fate. He said simply, yet with great
tenderness :

"Jessie, you know how truly I love you!
What have you to say to me ? " And the words
142



WHAT AILS THIS HEART OF MINE

Jessie said went like wine to Steve s head and
heart, and he took her in his arras and an
swered with truest, fondest kisses :

" Oh, you dear, dear girl ! God bless you,
Jessie ! I will try from this instant to be
worthy of you ! "



CHAPTER VII
STEVE S OPPORTUNITY

THE man who cuts himself loose from the or
ganised prejudices of his time and contempo
raries is always regarded as a fool; and Steve
could not escape this verdict, even from those
who loved him. It did not give him serious
trouble. He knew that the world in general
looked on many things as "foolishness" which
the Eternal that makes for righteousness holds
to be the highest wisdom; and his simple, wan
dering life had been only in accord with that
stream of tendency by which all things seek to
fulfil the law of their being.

For freedom he had joyfully given up home,
and kindred, and great wealth. To escape the
trammels of conventional life, he had been con
tent to work with his hands for such things as
were necessary for his existence. The reli
gious doubts which assail thoughtful youths he
had conquered, not in a martial, disputatious
attitude, but on his knees in desert places,
among woods and mountains, when he was
alone with God. Solitudes and wide horizons
144



STEVE S OPPORTUNITY

had given to his mind an equal plenitude. " If
it be possible to believe too much in God," he
once said to John, " I desire to be guilty of
that sin." His faith in man was equally
wide. His opinions were large, hopeful, and
honest. They did not lurk in insinuations,
nor were they ambushed in plausibilities; he
put them boldly forward and asked no quarter
for them.

Such a man was not likely to let love dom
inate him unchallenged. He was sure in the
long run to inquire of its tendencies how it
would influence, and where it would lead him.
So it was, that in the loneliness and storm of
the Baltic shores, and in the heavenly beauty
of the Mediterranean, he had fought out, dur
ing the past summer, the greatest battle a man
can fight, as regards this life, the battle be
tween the absolute freedom that was his soul s
highest atmosphere, and the captivating love
that was his heart s sweetest hope. Freedom
had nearly won him many times; perhaps if he
had remained in the stress and storm of the
bleak, tossing Baltic for a little longer, free
dom would have gained the final victory; but
under the soft Italian skies, and in the warm
sunshine of the South, love had the atmosphere
of its being. Memories of Jessie floated in the
perfumed winds; and in its lovely languors he
10 MS



THE KING S HIGHWAY

dreamed only of her beauty and brightness, and
thus love easily won the day.

A change, therefore, in his whole life had to
be contemplated. He had asked Jessie to be
his wife, and she had consented to his request;
and he was well aware that marriage meant a
home, and all its attendant cares and responsi
bilities. He would have to shut himself once
more within four walls. He would be com
pelled to perform some regular work. He
would be obliged to live day after day in the
same place. No more wanderings over the
length and breadth of the land; no more
sleeping and dreaming under the stars, with
his knapsack for a pillow. He had taken one
dear, lovely woman to his heart; and he must
take with her all the cares as well as all the
joys woman inevitably brings.

Steve was so much in love that the prospect
did not frighten him. Jessie was not accus
tomed to a large income; and he thought it
would be easy to obtain work which did not
chain him to a desk. Anything but that ! He
thought, too, as he was going to marry and set
tle down, his father would have some faith in
his social reformation. And as he had loved
Jessie s mother, surely he would feel some in
terest in the daughter of the woman he had
once intended to make his wife. Of course
146



STEVE S OPPORTUNITY

there must be an interview, and Steve did fear
that. Nicholas Lloyd always brought to the
front the worst side of his son, and Steve rec
ognised this result, and was angry at it.

For a little while, however, he made no
movement in regard to the future. He said to
Jessie, " In three weeks I will speak to your
father, and I hope satisfy all his reasonable
desires for your comfort, and in the interval
let us be happy, darling." And for once the
clever, careful little woman was willing to be
happy, to take the sweetness of the present
moment, to put cares out of reckoning, and
all considerations as to marriage and money
matters beyond her horizon. She was during
these three weeks delightful. She gave Steve
a great love. She allowed her best nature full
freedom. She forgot to consider herself. She
grew more beautiful every day. Her voice was
softer, her manner more gentle. She com
pletely captivated Steve; he thought himself
to be the happiest man in New York, and was
ready to assert with all his heart that "the
world was well lost for love."

Also, during these three weeks, Flora was
married and went to her own house a pretty
little flat in Twelfth Street. The furnishing
and adorning of its six small rooms was very
much in Jessie s hands; and Steve went with
J47



THE KING S HIGHWAY

her and helped her, and supplied many pretty
accessories. And what happy thoughts of his
own home he had while doing so might be
seen in his eyes, in his radiant face and boyish
manner. Not unfrequently these heart-dreams
found expression in pretty personal ambitions;
thus, one afternoon as they were unpacking a
present of china from the bridegroom s em
ployer, Jessie said,

"What lovely cups and saucers, Steve!"

"We can have a set like them."

"Oh, how delightful that will be! Do you
know that this china is very fine, and conse
quently very expensive?"

"I think we can afford it."

"I don t like the parlour curtains, do you,
Steve?"

" No indeed ! I hope we shall show more
taste."

Thus, in the happiness of others they laid
the foundation of their own, and time went
swiftly by, as it has a way of doing when the
heart is light and the days are full of joy.
After Flora s marriage, Steve began to think
seriously of preparing for his own, and, as a
first step towards it, he resolved to see his
mother and sister. As he walked up the av
enue, he reproached himself with being so
laggard a son and a brother, and yet his re-
148



STEVE S OPPORTUNITY

luctance to go home was a natural feeling. He
feared his mother s calm, sad face, he feared
that Alice would censure him; for it was not
unlikely she had heard through Jessie that he
had been in New York some weeks. He hated
to make excuses, for he knew he would be sure
to blurt out the truth, which was that Jessie
had occupied all his thoughts and all his time.

It was a cold, snowy morning, and as he
made his way through the fast-falling flakes,
he asked himself seriously if this new love had
slain, or even wounded, the old loves. No,
and again, no ! In his heart he knew that
mother and sister were just as dear as ever.
But then he was sure of their love. It had
been tested a thousand times and found faith
ful. There was no wooing of it necessary. It
was the treasure put safely away. Jessie s love
was the treasure still in speculation. It had to
be watched and cared for, and worked for until
the happy hour of its appropriation arrived.

"That is the whole matter," he said posi
tively, as he ran up the whitened steps and
shook himself free of the gathered snow. How
sweet and warm it was in the house ! Too
sweet and warm for Steve, who liked far better
the snap of the frosty air and the brisk stimu
lant of the northwest wind. But the sweetness
and warmth seemed just suitable for the lovely



THE KING S HIGHWAY

girl who turned with a cry of joy to welcome
him :

"Oh, Steve! Steve! Is it you at last?
When did you come to New York?"

" I have been here more than a week or two.
I have been busy wooing a wife. Did she not
tell you?"

"Who? Do you mean Jessie McAslin?"

"Yes."

" Of course you have won her. She used to
talk about you without rhyme or reason."

" Does she not talk about me now? "

" I have not encouraged her to talk about
you for a long time. I have begun to doubt
whether she is really the best kind of wife for
you."

" She is the only wife for me, Alice. And
she has promised to marry me very soon."

" Steve, do not marry just yet Wait a
little."

" I thought you wanted me to marry and
settle."

"I do but Oh, Steve, it is such an im
portant thing ! You will also have to tell her
who you are. I don t like that but you can
not marry her under the name of Morrison. "

"Certainly I cannot."

"And how will you support her? Jessie is
an ambitious woman. She loves pretty things



STEVE S OPPORTUNITY

of all kinds. I suppose all women do that.
Are you going to accept the offer father made
you, and go back to Wall Street? "

"Not in this life, and I have a good hope
that my next life will not retrograde."

"Then, pray how are you going to live? Do
you think Jessie will tramp east and west with
you, or even endure your long absences ? "

" I shall not ask her to do either. I shall
get some employment which will let me have
a little freedom, and keep a home in comfort."

"But you cannot give your cake away and
then eat it. You give up your freedom for a
wife. It is your own exchange. Then do
not grumble at its limitations."

" How does father feel towards me ? "

"I do not think he has changed his position
in the least. You have not changed yours,
why should he ? Try now and accept the offer
he leaves open to you from year to year."

" I cannot do so, Alice. I will not do a busi
ness that is founded on the principle of taking
without giving, and claiming without earning.
I will have nothing whatever to do with
stocks, and shares, and usury. I will not live
on interest, and dividends, and appropriated
balances."

"Very good people have to do with them,
and also live on them."



THE KING S HIGHWAY

" I have nothing to do with these very good
people. I keep only my own conscience."

" How do you know your conscience is right ? "

" Conscience is a crowned truth, armed
from birth at every point."

" I do not think so. It has to be educated
in a great many people. Else what good is
there in our reformatories ? "

" I don t know. Do you ? "

" I know you are as impossible as ever.
Suppose you go and see mother. She is so
much changed."

" Do you mean that she is ill ? "

" Go and see for yourself. I will wait here
until you return. You had better speak to her
about your marriage."

Steve nodded assent and went slowly up
stairs to his mother s room. She had always
seemed to live so near to heaven that Steve
could anticipate no other change but that
which would remove her to the land of her
hopes and prayers. And dearly as he loved
her, he knew that he had given her many,
many hours of anxiety and sorrow. So he went
with heavy heart and lingering steps to her
presence. Her door was ajar, and he pushed
it gently open. Mrs. Lloyd sat at a table
facing him, surrounded by papers and busily
writing. She had the air of a happy woman.
152



STEVE S OPPORTUNITY

She was handsomely dressed and looked much
younger than her age warranted, for the culti
vated, heavenly calm in which she had passed
so many of the most vivid years of life had
preserved her youth and beauty.

As Steve entered, she looked up quickly, and
in that simple movement Steve recognised the
great change that had taken place. Her face
was alive with interest, her cheeks slightly
flushed, her whole presence that of alert satis
faction. And as soon as she saw Steve an
other wondrous change appeared; a sudden
transformation from the life of the intellect to
the life of the heart. The intense love she
had for her son was no longer pressed down
and backward. It sprang into her eyes and
illumined her countenance, it forced her to rise
to her feet and outspread her arms, and Steve
felt, even at the threshold, the warmth of her
irrepressible attitude and cry

" Steve ! Steve ! I was thinking of you a few
moments ago. I was wishing you were here !
And you come and answer my wish ? Oh, you
dear boy ! "

The last words were said upon his lips, when
Steve had folded her to his heart, and was
laughing and crying in the same moment, and
telling her she was the handsomest mother a
man ever had, and the dearest and the sweet-
153



THE KING S HIGHWAY

est, asking between whiles, "What have you
been doing to yourself, mother? Whatever
have you been doing?"

" I have been doing something I want you to
help me in, my own boy ! Sit down here at my
side and let me tell you all about it."

She began with Max Lehman s visit and told
him all, even something of that marvellous ex
perience through the night of her conviction,
when she abandoned the selfishness of caring
only for her own salvation, and determined to
give herself to others, and then trust God for
herself. She showed him the plans and the
estimates for the first duty she had assumed,
and as she talked grew luminous and eloquent
over her hopes and intentions. In fact, she
quite enthused Steve. His heart beat to her
heart; his face caught the light on her face;
his tongue echoed all she said ; they were clasp
ing hands over her sacred bond and duty, and
were not aware of it.

" Now, you must see what I want of you,
Steve. Mr. Telford cannot give his whole
time, even though he gives his whole heart, to
this work. I want you to act for me in busi
ness that I cannot well attend to, and in places
I do not care to visit. There are materials to
contract for, and these ought to be examined,
for we want the very best, there are journeys
154



STEVE S OPPORTUNITY

to take, and people to see, and papers to au
thenticate, and papers to sign, and workmen
to look after, and a score of other things to at
tend to that a woman has neither the prestige
nor authority to profitably take in hand. You
say you like work if it keeps you in the open
air and permits you to walk about. This is
your opportunity, Steve. Will you be my
agent in this good work? Will you see to it
that not a dollar of the money I give for the
benefit of my poor brothers and sisters is di
verted from its right purpose ? "

"Mother, I ll fight for every cent. I will
see that the builders keep every tittle of their
obligations. I will take care that the masons
do not put more sand than lime in their mor
tar. The contractors shall do their full duty,
the workmen shall do theirs. Send me when
ever and wherever you wish on this work. I
am with you, heart and soul."

"You make me exceedingly happy, Steve.
When can you begin ? To-day ? "

"This very hour if you wish me."

" What are you doing now ? "

He hesitated a moment, and then answered :
" I have been wooing a wife the last few weeks.
All summer I was at sea."

"A wife!" A sudden coldness, a chill that
could be felt was in her voice. In fact, both
[ 55



THE KING S HIGHWAY

Steve s mother and sister experienced a quick
aversion to the thought of him marrying. They
had urged him to entertain the idea, they had
decided that marriage would be a good thing
for him, but when the idea became fact, their
first strong impulse was to repel it. It was a
natural impulse, and Steve understood the feel
ing of which it was the outcome. He had been
their idol, none the less so because he had
caused them endless anxieties and required fre
quent help. To give him up to some strange
woman ! To become second where they had
been first ! No mother and sister ever loved
thus fondly, and then relinquished without a
sigh and a heartache.

Mrs. Lloyd, however, was not only conscien
tious, she was generous, and in a few minutes
she recovered herself so completely that she
was able to ask, with a smile,

" Who is the young lady, Steve ? "

"It is Jessie."

" Jessie McAslin?"

" Yes, to be sure. I forgot there might be
some other Jessie. She is the only Jessie to
me. I hope you like her, mother."

" She has many good qualities, Steve. Her
brother is an exceptionally fine young man."

"John is perfect. So is Jessie. " He looked
so brave and so happy as he said the words that
156



STEVE S OPPORTUNITY

it was impossible for Mrs. Lloyd to restrain
sympathy with him. She let her little jeal
ousies slip away from her consciousness. She
leaned forward, kissed him, and said with ten
der enthusiasm,

" I am so glad you are going to marry, Steve. "

Tears of rapture came into Steve s bright
eyes; he thought himself the happiest man in
the world. Such a noble mother! and Jessie
also ! There was not a king nor kaiser he
would have changed places with. He could
not speak for very joy, but he lifted his
mother s hand and kissed it.

"You see," she continued, "it will be so
nice for you to have a pretty home of your own.
Jessie will like that, every good woman does,
and as I shall give you a fair salary, is there
anything to prevent your marriage taking place
very soon? If you look at to-day s newspaper
you will see that I have advertised for an agent.
I intended to give him two thousand dollars a
year. Will that sum satisfy you, Steve? I
hope so, for your salary will come out of the
money that is no longer mine, out of the
money that I must use as a steward. Mr. Tel-
ford thought two thousand dollars a year a
good salary for the work."

"It is more than good. I will be content
with much less."

] 57



THE KING S HIGHWAY

"Right, for every one, is right. You will
have a wife to support."

"Jessie is very careful and prudent. She
has been used, not only to making money, but
to saving it. You would wonder if you knew
how economical she is."

"We shall see, we shall see, Steve. The
next thing is your home. You must take that
from me. I want you to have a pretty home.
A great deal of happiness depends upon it.
Steve, my boy, I do hope you are going to be
happy at last ! "

As she spoke she opened her desk, took out
her bank-book, and wrote a check for a thou
sand dollars. "A mother does not marry her
only son every day," she said, with a pleasant
laugh. "I may never have this good oppor
tunity again, Steve, so you must let me humour
my whim now. Here is a one thousar,;"; dollar
check. It will furnish such a house as you
need to begin life with." Then she walked to
her toilet table and lifted a handsome ring.
" Give that to Jessie, with my love, and go at
once, Steve, for I want you to begin work this
afternoon. "

"Darling mother! How can I thank you?"

" Your happy face thanks me. Your loving
heart thanks me. Now I will give you my
orders for this afternoon, and then you will not



STEVE S OPPORTUNITY

have to come back here to-day. We must have
an office, Steve ; a pleasant room in some build
ing where you can put a safe for cash and pa
pers; a place to which all this mail can be sent,
where people on business can call and see you,
where contracts can be made and signed, and
so on. Hitherto I have used Mr. Telford s
office, but it is no longer proper or convenient;
so this afternoon rent a room, and buy a safe
and such office furniture as is necessary, no
extravagance, mind, and then to-morrow at
ten o clock report to me."

" Cannot I answer that pile of letters for
you before I go, mother ? "

" Not this morning. You are longing to tell
Jessie what a good thing has come to you. Go,
and be happy with her for an hour or two. To
day T will do this part of your work. And
now I must begin at once, so good-bye. I
shall see you every day now, Steve. What a
pleasure that will be ! One moment have you
seen your father? "

" Not yet. Do you wish me to see him ? "

"Yes. I think I would say a kind and
cheerful word to him. He loves you as well as
he can love any one, Steve; and he has not
been quite himself lately. Changes that even
I can notice have taken place lately. He
ought to give himself a holiday, a long holi-



THE KING S HIGHWAY

day, and he will not. He ought to see a
good physician, and he will not."

" What changes have you noticed ? "

" A month ago he was so eccentric, and did
things that puzzled all of us. Twice this sum
mer he has had extraordinary fits of extrava
gance. His egotism and boasting about Lord
Medway s attentions to Alice are very unlike
your father, or else I have never known the
man. He has also assumed a slowness of
speech, which I suppose he thinks adds to his
dignity; but it does not. However, Alice
says he is much better the last three weeks,
so do not say anything to irritate him."

"I will not. Shall I tell him of my in
tended marriage ? "

" I would. For some reason he seems to
have taken a great liking to the McAslins. "

" What of my engagement in your affairs ? "

" Do not speak of that. We must wait a
little; a favourable opportunity will come."

Steve had walked very slowly and heavily
upstairs to the interview with his mother. It
was over, and he came down them as if he were
treading on air. Such good fortune seemed
almost incredible. Nothing that he could have
planned for himself would have been half so
consonant with the peculiar necessities of his
nature and ideas. And he could not help re-
160



STEVE S OPPORTUNITY

fleeting, how all summer, while he was appa
rently drifting, his mother had been uncon
sciously working for him while she had thought
herself altogether working for others. But not
until that very morning scarce half an hour
before his visit had it struck her that the
needed overseer and agent might well be her
own son. Thus it is always in life ordered by
God. We build, and we build far better than
we know or intend, for the Master s hand is
invisibly directing and controlling events to
far nobler ends than our own wisdom or fore
sight had intended.

Swift as light these thoughts passed through
Steve s mind; they induced a momentary fer


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